A rural Texas sheriff cautioned people not to jump to conclusions about a compound under construction north of Eldorado, saying he has no proof that the structures are for the head of a polygamist church group.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran was responding Thursday to concerns that Warren Jeffs, head of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was building three three-story houses on a 1,300-acre site. Aerial photographs show the houses appear similar to some of the large homes in the twin FLDS communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
"The Sheriff's Department is on top of this," Doran said. "In the future if there is a connection with FLDS, then we will continue to monitor it. When people purchase land the last thing you want is to have rumors following you. You don't want law enforcement creeping around your door accusing you of something you are not."
Doran said it is his understanding that the property is a corporate hunting retreat.
Jeffs, who is estimated to have 50 wives, has long been rumored to be building a compound in Mexico. The border is about 90 miles south of Eldorado in West Texas.
Rod Parker, an attorney for the FLDS church, has said it is unlikely that there are any plans to move the FLDS communities.
Both Doran and child victim advocate Flora Jessop agree the land was bought by David Allred of YFZ Land Co. Jessop, who also spoke during a news conference, said Allred is related to Jeffs.
"I don't think they are coming, I think they are here," Jessop, 34, said in Friday editions of the San Angelo Standard-Times. "But to what extent, I don't know. We've been applying pressure in Utah and Arizona and I think they are looking to establish somewhere where they are not known. The best thing to do is educate yourselves about the group."
Most of Jeffs' followers live in the Hildale-Colorado City area, but the church also has an enclave in Creston Valley, British Columbia, near the Idaho border. Estimates of the total membership range from 6,000 to 12,000.
Utah and Arizona prosecutors have been investigating allegations of welfare and tax fraud, incest, child abuses and forced marriage of young girls to adult men. Anti-polygamy activists claim FLDS church leaders often traffic young girls between Colorado City-Hildale and British Columbia.
Doran said he takes Jessop's concerns seriously, but that he understands the site is a corporate hunting retreat.
"At this time I have seen no evidence of wrongdoing or anything else that would make me think that the project is anything other than a hunting retreat," he said. "I would like to remind everyone that the construction workers who are working out there, as well as anyone who might live at the site in the future, enjoy the same rights as any other citizen of this country."
The FLDS church may be the largest polygamist sect in the West. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disassociated itself from polygamy more than a century ago and now excommunicates Mormons who advocate or practice it. However, there are believed to be tens of thousands of people who still practice polygamy.